Yes, Maryland can win the ACC tournament

The Terps are experienced and hot, that's why

March 08, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

You come here today looking for hope.

You come here asking: Can Maryland win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament for the first time since 2004?

Don't lie to me, you say. Don't toy with my emotions.

Fine, I'll give it to you straight: Yes, the Terps have a great chance to win it all in Greensboro, N.C., this weekend.

And we'll get into exactly why in a moment.

But whatever you do, don't read too much into their sloppy 74-68 win over Virginia on Saturday.

The Terps were playing on fumes for that one after an absolutely exhausting stretch of games.

There was the big, emotional win over Duke on "Senior Night" three days earlier.

There was the big win at Virginia Tech before that on "No Potty Night," when a water main break delayed the game three hours and left the arena without washroom facilities.

Before that, there was the big home win over Clemson, 19-7 at the time, with a veteran big man, Trevor Booker, who was supposed to shred their freshman center Jordan Williams.

And right before that, they survived " Heart Attack Night" at Comcast Center, when junior forward Cliff Tucker launched that buzzer-beater from another ZIP code to nip Georgia Tech.

"It wasn't about how it looked," Gary Williams said of the Virginia game. "It was: Just get the win. I think we were probably mentally tired."

No one looked more fried against the Cavaliers than Greivis Vasquez - at least for the first 30 minutes.

The Terps' senior floor leader shot 4-for-13 in the beginning of the game and started the second half 0-for-5, seeming to totter around on tired legs.

But with the game hanging in the balance, the ACC Player of the Year candidate hit three 3-pointers that kept the Terps from gagging in the face of a furious Virginia run.

Yes, it helped that Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett flipped out over a blocking foul on senior center Jerome Meyinsse and air-mailed his jacket for a technical foul in the waning seconds.

But the bottom line is: The Terps found a way to win, as they have throughout this seven-game winning streak that left them tied with Duke at 13-3 for the regular-season conference title.

And now they have a few days to rest before facing the winner of the Georgia Tech-North Carolina game in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament Friday.

Which brings us to why the second-seeded Terps have a great chance to win the whole thing.

First of all, they have terrific senior leadership. Going into a big tournament like the ACC? Give me seniors in the starting lineup every time. Give me that experience, that track record of having dealt with pressure for four years.

Vasquez has been Maryland's emotional leader and has come up big with the game on the line time after time.

Landon Milbourne has seemed reluctant to shoot at times the past few weeks, but he still plays hard, does all the dirty work on defense and mentors the young big guys, Jordan Williams and James Padgett.

Eric Hayes looks so laid-back you think he's about to doze off. Then all he does is hit a 3 that drives a dagger into the other team or hit a pair of foul shots down the stretch that seals another win.

You can't put a value on that kind of leadership in the postseason.

Another reason they can win in Greensboro: The incomparable Vasquez is playing at another level right now, displaying the kind of skill and nerve and confidence that energizes his teammates night after night.

If the guy doesn't win ACC Player of the Year, there's no justice in the world. Look what he did against Virginia.

On the final afternoon of the grueling regular season, in a game where he's exhausted and his brain is mush and his legs are jelly, he still finishes with 23 points and five assists and hits those three huge 3-pointers at the end.

Looking for one guy to lead your team in a big game in a big tournament?

I don't see how you can do any better than Greivis Vasquez right now.

Which brings us to the final reason you should like the Terps' chances this weekend: They're hot.

Give me the hot team in the postseason every time. And with seven wins in a row, there's no hotter team in the league.

Now they take this magical roll they're on and try to ride it all the way to their first ACC tournament title in six years.

If you've watched them at all lately, you have to like their chances.

And there's your hope for today.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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